Circle City Classic Weekend 

HBCU coaches, teams and fans ready to rumble

The two teams in this weekend’s 24th Annual Coca-Cola Circle City Classic met on the gridiron for the first time last fall and it was a game for the ages. But neither coach considers Saturday’s game as a grudge match.

“It’s never about revenge. We never look back to last year,” said Kermit Blount, head football coach of the Winston-Salem State University Rams. “We are just going to go out and do what we didn’t do last year and get a win.”

The Rams were visiting Florida A&M University in Tallahassee last fall when they gave up two touchdowns in the fourth quarter for a thrilling 24-22 loss. Florida A&M isn’t counting on that happening on Saturday.

“They play until the last gun,” said Rubin Carter, coach of the Rattlers. “We will have to match their intensity if we are going to win.”

Though coaches at times play it down, rivalry — both on and off the field — is one of the reasons that the Circle City Classic is one of the best football games in the country. And for the last 23 years on the first weekend in October, the Classic, sponsored by Indiana Black Expo and the Indiana Sports Corp., has brought some of the best black collegiate football to Indianapolis, and this year’s game will air live on the NFL Television Network.

FAMU is an old hand in Classic competition. This year will mark a record-tying sixth appear since 1984. “The Rattlers are 2-2-1 in Classic competition, including a 59-58 win in an incredible six-overtime game against Hampton University in 1996,” ISC spokesman John Dedman said.

“FAMU was also a part of the only tie in Classic history when the Rattlers faced Jackson State University in a 1988 defensive struggle that ended in a 10-10 draw,” he said.

“We are always excited about playing [in the Classic],” said Carter, who is in his third season as head coach at FAMU. “It’s a huge opportunity and there will be lots of excitement.”

Winston-Salem, on the other hand, is a rookie in Classic play, but Blount doesn’t see that as a disadvantage.

“Every team you put on the field is different,” said Blount, a graduate of the school and its football coach for the last 10 years. “But this is one of the best teams I have coached in terms of work ethic. They are all about hard work.”

Blount has led his team to three Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association championship appearances, two CIAA titles and two Pioneer Bowl appearances, Dedman said. And he was awarded back-to-back CIAA “Coach of the Year” honors in 1999 and 2000.

Winston-Salem was 2-2 going into last weekend’s away game against Howard, while FAMU had a 1-2 record before last Saturday’s game against Tennessee State in the Bank of America Football Classic. But two weeks earlier, FAMU saw big performances from two players, one on defense and one on offense.

Senior defensive end Tyrone McGriff was selected Sept. 16 as the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Week. He had 11 tackles, including eight solo tackles, in the team’s 30-17 win over Howard. McGriff also recorded two sacks for a loss of 16 yards.

Running back Phillip Sylvester, a freshman, was named conference Rookie of the Week that same week in the game against Howard. He rushed for 222 yards on 21 carries and garnered another nine yards on two receptions. His longest run was for 94 yards for a touchdown.

“He was running like his hair was on fire,” Carter said with a laugh about Sylvester. “I feel very good about him. He enjoys the game and he’s very motivated. He wants to be successful.”

Though a number of players form a “nucleus that can compete on every down,“ Carter described both McGriff and Sylvester as “great leaders of the team — on and off the field.” He expects them to be playmakers in the game against Winston-Salem.

Waiting for FAMU will be Winston-Salem quarterback Monte Purvis. Before last weekend, he had a total of 44 attempts with 22 completions for 248 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. But Purvis, a senior, is a double threat, Blount said. He has 223 yards running and four TDs.

“He’s a guy who throws the football as well as runs,” the coach said. Purvis is joined by senior running back Jed Bines, who has 307 yards rushing.

But Blount also admitted that Winston-Salem, which is in only its second year in Division I, has “a very young football team.” Purvis and Bines are seniors, but other go-to players, such as wide receivers Bryant Bayne and Michael Scarbrough, are sophomores.

Anchoring the team on defense are William Hayes and Thad Griffin, with DeRon Middleton and Nate Biggs in the secondary. “These are all guys we bank on. We look for these guys to play well week in and week out,” Blount said.

Indianapolis is neutral territory for the teams, but to spice things up, the schools traditionally bring loads of fans, as well as their marching bands, which compete during the half-time show. FAMU’s Marching 100 recently performed with Prince during the Super Bowl XLI halftime show.

More than football

The game is only a part of the American Family Insurance Circle City Classic Weekend, said Indiana Black Expo spokeswoman Alpha Garrett.

“Leading up to the last game in the Dome, there are several activities and events for the entire family, including a pep rally and an HBCU [historically black colleges and universities] college fair,” she said.

On Friday, Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy and Tamika Catchings of the Indiana Fever will be the Major Taylor honorees at the Indianapolis Colts Classic Coaches Luncheon, which features both Carter and Blount. Singer Kelly Rowland, formerly of Destiny’s Child, is the grand marshal of the parade in the morning prior to the game in the afternoon.

Black Expo estimates that up to 175,000 people will enjoy the various events of the Circle City Classic.

WHAT: 24th annual Coca-Cola Circle City Classic: Florida A&M Univ. vs. Winston-Salem State Univ.

WHERE: RCA Dome

WHEN: Oct. 6, 4 p.m.

INFO: www.circlecity-classic.com

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